Project name: House at Palghar
Plot Area : 1 Acre
Design firm: Design Jatra
Design team: Shardul Patil (Chief Architect), Ar. Pratik Dhanmer, Ar. Sarang Pingale, Ramesh Jadhav (Chief brick mason), Anant More(Chief brick mason), Krushna Kothawale (Chief timber mason), Ananta Jadhav (Chief timber mason), Mahadeo Bhoir (Chief plastering mason), Ar. Malik Singh Gill ( Mentor)
Project completion : 8 months
Team Design Jatra believes in no style but the local. Before going ahead with any project, an intense documentation of the site context is carried out in order to explore various skills, materials and techniques available for execution. The team holds a strong belief in a design process that is both inclusive and organic. Every structure is the spontaneous outcome that arises from the effective collaboration between the architect and the construction team. Since its inception, Design Jatra has worked in Palghar districts and its vicinity towards empowering villages through rural development programs in the form of bachat gats (Self Help Group) and micro-financing along with participatory planning. The team has now taken up organic farming and ecological restoration consultancies and is slowing advancing towards policy making.
Set against the natural backdrop of Taluka Wada (district Palghar near Vajreshwari) in the village of Kelthan, this 2200 square feet beautifully designed house surrounded by a humongous farm land exemplifies the true elements of traditional architecture.
The house comprises of a living room, an atrium/court, a bedroom, a kitchen, a library, one agricultural produce store room/studio and a small terrace.
As far as the construction technique goes, a local technology has been adopted that includes mud mortar and burnt bricks with timber floors and roof. Apart from the foundation, the usage of cement in the house is zero. The house has been entirely finished in mud and cow dung with lime stabilization.
The structure has been in designed in a manner such that it functions smoothly without electricity and yet provides its inhabitants with all the comfort they need. With the passive cooling and natural lighting flawlessly taken care of, the need doesn’t arise for the user to switch on any button to create the right temperature within the house. Every wall being constructed in mud further adds to this effect.
The house works partly as a studio for the Architect and team Design Jatra, who are involved in projects in and around Palghar district which are eco-sensitive and local economy empowering in nature. Being located in the native village of the architect himself, the other part of the house forms the perfect getaway for the architect’s family.
With a consciousness of giving back to nature, every building material selected has an environmentally friendly appeal to it. The site has now been landscaped for soil reconstruction. An equal number of trees belonging to the same species used in the house have been planted on site.
View of site
The structure has been designed on an open patch of land. At first, the plot comprised of shallow black loamy soil and no vegetation in the surrounding apart from 4 palm trees and one Karanj tree. Hence it was necessary to have passive cooling so that the structure works well even without electricity.
The north façade seen from the Karanj tree
The structure height has been reduced in the south direction. In this way it becomes half its volume in the south end.
No openings have been provided on the west façade. It has been designed in a manner to welcome the dominant winds and at the same time block the harsh sun from the west. A self-shading brick jaali has been designed that dominates this façade.
The venturi effect comes into play when the dominant east-west winds flow through the jaali into the double height atrium and eventually circulate through the entire house. The centrally located double height atrium lures out all the hot air from the house.
In addition to this, the atrium flooring is finished with cow dung that further purifies the air.
All the rooms attached to the atrium reap these benefits as well.
The western façade has been brought together by wattle and daub wall panes made of bamboo that ventilate the house and at the same time filter the air that passes through them.
The north incidentally happened to be the side that offered a picturesque view of the mountains. Hence most of the relaxation fenestrations, like the bay window and arched door of the living room face north.
The entrance to the structure has been planned from the east. One enters into a double heighted atrium with the living room to the right and a dining, kitchen and store to the left. A beautifully designed semi-circular staircase takes you all the way up to the reading room followed by a passage that leads to the terrace and lastly a bedroom. All rooms open out to the atium.The eastern side opens out to a vibrant farm accompanied by a vast array of strictly native trees. The social spaces of the house like the terrace, the verandah, the kitchen and the tulsi vrindavan face the east so as to monitor the field.
View of the east facade: a young farm abundant with wild grass
The plan developed is rectangular in shape with the major axis running north-south. This orientation was done with the intent to trap the dominant east-west wind.
The eastern and northern side of the house receive ample of natural light. Excluding the store room that faces south, no other rooms open out on the southern side of the house.
Lime and cow dung plaster used to finish the internal walls act like a moisture and humidity controller. The lime which is used in hydraulic lime retains moisture and hydrates. Not only does this process keep the room cool but it also regulates the humidity of the space in an otherwise humid climate and strengthens the plaster at the same time. No amount of cement plaster can exhibit the similar properties.
Mangalore tiles used as the roofing material add to the breath ability of the overall structure. Once roofed appropriately, the structure behaves in tandem with its surrounding environment. It provides shelter for all the insects that breed in the farm and houses the ecology as much as it houses the humans. A balanced ecology in itself acts as a repellent for pests and vermin. In this way, designing a house meant designing the ecology for its eternal health.
Before starting the design, a detailed documentation was conducted for a period of six months regarding the construction techniques of the region. It was done with an intention that this process would help the designers narrow down to the techniques they wanted to implement during the course of the design. The documentation revealed immense potential of the traditional materials and construction techniques in the Palghar district. The aim of doing so was to inculcate within the locals a faith in the prospective that these traditional techniques hold even in the present day.
The site context itself held a few restrictions for certain techniques to be adopted. The wall thicknesses, depth of the timber members were all discussed with the local masons who along with the architects help put together this amazing piece of traditional architecture. There were no computer generated drawings since the masons weren’t familiarized with reading architectural drawings. All discussions were carried out on the basis of a physical model. The very same model was shown to the clients in order to get them acquainted with the spatial configuration that the design portrayed.
Woodwork being discussed with the master masons
Certain details had to be made on a 1:1 scale in the form of mock ups for the masons’ better understanding. The design team along with the masons would collectively sit and discuss the stability of the mock ups in a stage wise method and come up with a design. Not only did this positive collaboration strengthen the masons’ trust in the structure but it proved to be a tremendous learning experience for the architects themselves.
Mock ups on site
A simple grid of 13 feet x 13 feet was drawn out on account of the strength of the timber members. No member can take a span exceeding this in the economic range.
Another design challenge posed in front of the architects was the structure’s cost effectiveness. For the technology to be accepted locally the costing worked out had to be lower than that of RCC structures. This could only be achieved if the materials selected were available locally. Also the masons being from the very same region contributed to the cost effectiveness of the structure.
Despite the fact that the house was situated close to the forest, the site was still barren. However there is immense potential on the site for a healthy eco-system to flourish. In a few years the client envisages a full grown forest on the site and hence the aim was to design the house in a way that it doesn’t form a hindrance to the eco processes that run the forest. The house is porous to all the elements that exist within nature while at the same time doesn’t harm the integrity of human life. The natural pond next to the house springs to life every morning with a vibrancy that is welcomed by the flora and fauna around. This according to the client and the architect was the key to healthy living.
The key guidelines to Vastu Shastra have been adopted wherever necessary. The kitchen being the warmest space of the house has been located in the south east part of the house so that it receives the first light of the day when majority of the cooking happens. The bathroom occupies the south west part of the house with a humid temperature due to the dominant monsoon winds. The bedroom located in the north gets enlightened on account of the pleasant north light that pours in.
As mentioned earlier, the site is blessed with the Mandagni Mountains to the north. In addition to this, the garden too has been positioned towards the north of the site. In this way, the person viewing the surrounding through the north windows sees the garden in foreground and the stunning Mandagni Mountains in the background.
The concept formulated was to give the clients a house that blends seamlessly with nature. The client’s being the architect’s parents were completely involved in the building process.
Mr. Namdeo working with a group of architecture students to come up with a corbelled niche design
A number of traditional building materials have been experimented with in the structure. Inspired by the G+1 mud mortar structures along the foothills of Sahyadris, the architects began with mud mortar as the basic material for the construction process. The soil available on site was examined in depth and was stabilized with sand and lime so as to attain the required strength. The mud was later cured for two nights and then used. This process helped to reduce the amount of ecologically harmful sand content in the structure. It limits the usage of water since mud once used does not require any further curing. Unlike cement mortar, the bricks used for mud mortar need not be soaked.
Ramesh Jadhav guiding an architecture student in making mortar
Revival of materials like lime
Timber too was used as an incredible material during the building process. The local masons had immense knowledge on the various kinds of timber available in the forests. Each and every component of the house had to be made from a special timber.
Wherever there was compression, Khair was to be used while wherever there was a chance of exposure to water, Asana was to be used. High tension is one of the important features of a timber called Bibba. Boardings were to be made from Babul while slender members like common rafters were made out of Jambhul or Ain. Heavy members like binders and trusses were made of Ain too. Elasticity was provided by Sheesham and long life by Sag. The timber used gives the spaces a homely feel. All the timber has been accordingly treated against insects by using natural oils and extracts of bel (linseed) and neem. The members are later finished with oil paints.
A long forgotten technique of lime plaster was to be revived. Additives such as mud, cow dung, jaggery and saw dust were tried in varying proportions to arrive at the perfect mix. The plaster was then applied by hand, by mostly architecture students and women of the village.
The project flaunts a grand atrium with a cantilevered timber staircase. The wall is adorned with warli painting by the client himself and various architecture students who visit the house.
The house has been entirely furnished with un-built furniture that further makes the expenditure on furniture negligible. Apart from one cane sofa set, some chairs and a dining table the clients did not get any loose furniture in the house.
View of library with inbuilt book shelves in the wall
View of bed made out of bricks
The structural stability of the house has been achieved with the help of arches. A series of such arches laid one after another in perspective add a soothing effect to the interior spaces of the house.
The alterations in room heights infuse a sense of drama to the overall space. The natural light that filters in through the jaali gives rise to a beautiful array of patterns thus giving the house a vibrant appeal throughout the day. Additionally the application of timber and mud render a warm and rustic charm to the house. In summer the structure remains cooler by 10 degrees at any given time during the day whereas in winters it provides its inhabitants with inherent warmth.
Every nook and corner of the house reflects an earthy warmth that most households dearth in today’s urban context. In this manner,the house revives traditional architecture through its earnest and rustic appeal.
South east side of house
Vinita Kaur Chiragia (Core Team)
Shardul Patil (Core Team)
Pratik Dhanmer (Core Team)
Anuradha Wakde (Core Team)